Tuesday, August 28, 2012

6 Let's Play "Is It Worth It?" (The Writer's Conference Edition)

When you receive an alert of an upcoming writer’s conference, it can be daunting to figure out whether you should go or pass. Many of us struggle with the money and time spent to attend, but we’re eager to learn and meet other people in the industry. Plus let's face it, if your writerly friends are going, it’s hard knowing you might be the only one who isn't. Maybe there aren't many conferences in your area and you're afraid to miss the chance to go.

(Disclaimer: I’m writing this post assuming you’re not intimidated to attend a conference to begin with. If you are, don’t be. They’re fabulous, welcoming, and packed with opportunity.)

Today, we’re looking at points for consideration if you’re wondering whether to register for a writer’s conference. When I received a postcard last week advertising an upcoming conference in my area, these criteria helped me figure out whether I should attend or pass.

1. Study the breadth of the professional faculty list. I’ve attended smaller conferences that were dominated by faculty from one publishing house. That doesn’t have mean it’s not worth attending. But if you find yourself in that situation, make sure that the publishing house’s list and submission wish-list match what you write. Visit their website and check that the opportunity to submit an unsolicited manuscript or art sample is worthwhile for you. Over time, I’ve learned to study the faculty list before registering to make sure diversity exists in the list of professionals in attendance.

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2. Study the depth of the professional faculty list. Before conference day arrives, know your faculty. Think of it as stalking studying your targets. Familiarize yourself with the work of the agents and/or editors attending so that you know who represents work most like yours. Think about who you might want to approach based on what you find out.

3. Evaluate your manuscripts. Are they finished? Are they ready to pitch? Which ones fit specific faculty members? Is there one you’d like to submit for critique? As always, make sure your manuscript is finished in case it’s requested by an editor or agent.

4. Do you plan on making a pitch? It’s a scary question, I know. But when you spend the money to go to a conference, you are also paying for the physical presence of editors and agents. When I pitched an agent for the first time, I was pretty sure I was going to throw up in my handbag. Then I started talking to the agent and was SO thankful I did. He was down-to-earth, gave me feedback, and invited me to email him a manuscript.

5. Breakdown the breakout sessions. Many conferences feature small-group breakout sessions where you have the chance to get specialized feedback or advice. Martina and I have used the “divide and conquer” method before where we went to different sessions to maximize our time. If you go with a friend and more than one session sounds interesting, this is a great way to multiply your learning. Report back and share with each other afterward.

credit FreeDigitalPhotos.net
6. Can I afford it? If you’ve ever watched financial guru Suze Orman, you’ll know what this means. Conference fees can add up, but are typically not too expensive in isolation. SCBWI members usually enjoy a discounted attendance fee, as well. But the ca-chings of the cash register start ringing if you’re throwing in gas, air travel, hotel, food, or those tempting intensives or critiques. The same can be said for your time. Conferences usually fall on weekends and maybe that time is too precious to you to be away.

There’s no doubt that it’s hard to decide what to do when conference alerts trickle into your mailbox or email inbox. Try to focus on what makes the most sense for you. If you’ve honed in on the reasons to go or skip, you’re more likely to be content with whatever decision you make.

Tell us how you weigh your options for attending a writer's conference. Is there something that attracts you to a conference specifically, or something that makes you comfortable in passing one up? We'd love to know your thoughts.

Happy decision-making,


  1. Great guidelines for conference-goers. :-) I've attended several conferences over the years, and have always come away with pages of notes, new writer friends, and renewed excitement for writing. But mostly I look for the pitch opportunities. As scary as they are, the feedback is so worth it!

  2. Great tips! I haven't been able to attend a conference yet. The cost of travel from small city Canada is a bit much at the moment. I'd love to attend one one of these days - although I might be doing the vomit-in-the-purse fear too!

  3. Terrific list of things to consider! I've been to a bunch of conferences and walked away with great experiences from each one (for differing reasons). Money is a huge factor in making my decision, as is the quality of the speakers and the agents present.

  4. Cost is a huge factor; I went to some great local conferences that were reasonable, but many of the national ones would've cost over $1000 in conference fees, hotel, airfare and food. Not to mention all the books you're tempted to buy! But I suppose it depends what you want to get from a conference. Your tips on looking at the faculty and what they represent, what they teach, is really helpful.

  5. Thanks for all the tips. I would love to attend a conference but like everyone has mentioned, the cost is daunting. When I do feel like it is more possible financially I will keep your advice in mind :)

  6. The type of faculty present is an important consideration for professional illustrators, too. A conference with too many editors or authors and no Art Directors will make the "I" in "SCBWI" feel neglected. I do love meeting my favorite illustrators at Conferences, but I have to look at the long term "return on investments" so I need people there who could potentially get me a job someday. I say all this as someone who coordinated SCBWI Conferences and workshops for nearly 6 years.


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